Thursday, 14 March 2013

Road Trip: Salta to Mendoza

For the last part of our Argentina trip, Barb and I and our friends Fran and Alan rented a car in Salta.  Our other friends Joan and Mike left us in Iguazu and are now back in Victoria enjoying the rain.  Salta is located in the northwest corner of Argentina where the culture there is more akin to that of Bolivia and Peru than to the other places we have visited on our trip.

We picked up the car on Friday, March 8 and went exploring north of town.  We drove 3 ½ hours on a very winding road which had one birding highlight – a roadside lake with a few species including an Andean Gull.  Our destination was Purnamarca - a touristy little town with lots of handicrafts imported from Peru as well as nice views of some colorful hills.  While the others enjoyed a leisurely lunch, I went in search of birds and was pleased to find a Blue-capped Puffleg.  After lunch, we continued to the small town of Tilarca where there are some pre-Inca ruins.  I took a quick look at the ruins but was distracted by the birds.  A female Red-tailed Comet (it would have been nice to see the male with its long tail) landed nearby and there were a couple of Chiguanco Thrushes in the bushes.
Chiguanco Thrush
On Saturday, we just had a short drive of 200 km to El Cafayete but had the misfortune to be behind a group of 200+ cyclists for about half an hour.  Finally we got passed the cyclists and there were to be no birding stops until we were far ahead of them!  The scenic highlight of the trip was the Quebreda de las Conchas – a 25 km stretch of highway that passed through a red rock canyon.
Quebrada de las Conchas
The next day, we drove from El Cafayete to Catamarca with a stop at the Quilmes ruins.  On the way to the ruins, we saw hundreds of Burrowing Parrots.  I wandered through the ruins looking for birds and did find a couple of interesting species – Golden-billed Saltator (which I had had a glimpse of in Buenos Aires) and White-fronted Woodpecker.

Burrowing Parrots (this photo taken in Talampaya; at Quilmes Ruins, parrots had dark bellies)

Quilmes Ruins
Golden-billed Saltator
Our final stop was at Villa Union where we spent a couple of days exploring Talampaya National Park.  We didn’t know much about the park beforehand so we were pleasantly surprised with the scenery that we saw on a couple of guided tours.  As hunting is not allowed in the park, we also saw many Patagonian Maras (a strange looking rodent somewhat like a hare), Gray Foxes and Guanacos.  There were also quite a few Lesser Rheas; otherwise birds were scarce but I did see a couple of new finches.
Canyon in Talampaya National Park
Patagonian Mara
Lesser Rhea
Rainbow Canyon in Talampay National Park
The drive to Mendoza was through desert with very few birds – occasional vultures and caracas were the only birds to be seen.  In Mendoza, we have been concentrating on the wine though I did see a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle on this morning’s city tour.
The northwest section of Argentina has great birding potential but, as was the case for most of the trip, birding was just a side benefit of sightseeing.  In all, I had 15 lifers on this portion and about 65 for the overall trip.  We have enjoyed our travels in Argentina – it has many interesting sights and a good infrastructure for travel.  If one were to concentrate on birds and perhaps hire a guide or two, I’m sure that you could easily see over 300 species in a 2-3 week trip to this large and diverse country.


1 comment:

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